Monday Matters (April 19, 2021)

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For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.

-Job 19:25

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain…But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.

-I Corinthians 15:12-14, 20-22

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

-Colossians 3:1,2

The resurrection completes the inauguration of God’s kingdom. . . . It is the decisive event demonstrating that God’s kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven. The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.

 -N. T. Wright

It is such a letdown to rise from the dead and have your friends not recognize you.
-Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith

Ordinary Resurrection

Each year as we make our way through the Easter season, I’m reminded of a powerful book by Jonathan Kozol, educator and advocate for children, especially children who have been pushed to the margins, children who contend with what he calls savage inequalities. The book I have in mind is entitled Ordinary Resurrections. It describes Dr. Kozol’s relationship with a group of children, students who attended school in one of the poorest parts of the Bronx and also those who participated in an after-school program at a local Episcopal Church (St. Ann’s). It’s a loving account of his relationship with these young people, and a hopeful testimony to their resilience.

It’s from this book that I first learned of the etymology of the word resurrection. It really means to stand again, which strikes me as a beautiful way to think about this season.

As we move through this season (It’s more than just one day), we certainly focus on the events of the first Easter morning which brought the amazing news that Jesus, Lord of the dance had indeed been knocked down but he leapt up high. He stood again after confronting the worst that his world could dish out. But Jonathan Kozol reminded me that stories of resurrection unfold in all kinds of places.

For those of us in the Christian tradition, we hear the word that because Christ has been raised, we also can be raised. As we reflect on what the past year has brought to us, to our individual lives, to our church, to our nation, we can safely say that we have been knocked down. The promise of the Easter season is that by grace, we can stand again. The longings and losses of the past year are not the final word.

So maybe you feel like you have been knocked down. Maybe your loved ones are having that experience. If that’s the case, imagine ordinary resurrections. Embrace the Easter promise that we can start again. We can stand again.

Maybe your faith has been knocked down, by the inexplicable pain of the world, or the failures of the church, or the appropriation of Jesus’ teaching for political advantage. If that’s the case, imagine ordinary resurrections. What would that look like in the course of your spiritual journey?

Maybe your church feels like it’s been knocked down. Many churches lived on the edge prior to pandemic. The challenges of the past year only deepened the anxiety. If that’s the case, imagine ordinary resurrections. What would that look like for your faith community?

Maybe you live in a community that has been particularly hard hit, knocked down in one way or another. Recent waves of gun violence and racial division provide examples of this. If that’s the case, imagine ordinary resurrections. That may not be easy to do. But Jonathan Kozol reminds us that they can happen, through amazing grace (the title of another of his books). Perhaps the first step is simply believing it’s possible.

-Jay Sidebotham


RenewalWorks has partnered with The Episcopal Church to transform RenewalWorks for Me into My Way of Love, Powered by RenewalWorks.

Using baseline data from hundreds of churches and thousands of Christians who have worked with RenewalWorks, your responses to a few simple questions will help the system identify broad characteristics of your spiritual life, and then assign you a plan of action.

After reading your initial results, you can go further by signing up for eight weeks of customized emails with tips, reminders and suggestions for daily spiritual practices. Following a four-part routine (Warm Up – Practice – Coach’s Tip – Stretch), these weekly emails support your unique spiritual journey and provide just the right suggestions for you to grow.

My Way of Love is free, a gift from Forward Movement and The Episcopal Church, offered in the confidence that as individual Christians grow in spiritual health, our congregations and dioceses will also be healthier-spiritually speaking.

Learn more and sign up for My Way of Love here.

In a recent episode of the video series  Leading Forward: Conversations on Discipleship and Growth, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry speaks with the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. The two discuss My Way of Love and the connection between discipleship and the spiritual practices for Jesus-centered life.

“Answering the survey questions helps the coach to guide you in real spiritual growth based on experience,” said Bishop Curry, “RenewalWorks and [Forward Movement] have been working on this for a while, but My Way of Love is based on that experience and the experience of roughly 2000 years of Christian history, plus a couple more thousand years of Jewish history and the history of other people of faith.” Watch the video here.

Leading Forward -- Conversation with Bishop Michael Curry about My Way of Love
Leading Forward — Conversation with Bishop Michael Curry about My Way of Love

If you’ve already done RenewalWorks for Me, you can still participate in My Way of Love and experience the wisdom that has been infused by this addition of The Way of Love, Practices for Jesus-Centered Life.

Now What? 5 Spiritual Growth Strategies for the New Normal

In the past year, we’ve had to rethink and reconfigure a lot of the ways that we are the church. Probably many of you have navigated the sudden switch from meeting in-person to gathering virtually. With vaccines rolling out, hopefully you’re moving into something like a new normal and returning to your buildings. Although many things have changed about how we do church during this pandemic, some basic principles about vital churches have not.

by Jay Sidebotham

What are these principles? And how can we apply best practices of spiritually vital churches to our congregations as we make our way into this new normal?

Based on our research and learnings from RenewalWorks, we offer some insight that might help you as you forge ahead. (Learn more about RenewalWorks in our digital brochure.)

The first step is to take the pulse of your congregation. How has your congregation changed over the past year? There are many obvious changes. You may stream your Sunday service online or meet via Zoom for small groups. But now is the time to assess how the events of the past year have impacted the spiritual life of your parishioners. For many people, times of crisis lead to deepened faith, but it can be hard to gauge where people are in their faith journeys.

The RenewalWorks process can help you take the pulse on the spiritual health of your parishioners. This information gathered by a Spiritual Life Inventory provides a starting point backed by data for charting your course forward. (And if you’ve done this process in the past, it might be a good time to do it again. You’ll learn a lot.) Contact us if you want more information about this Spiritual Life Inventory and how to get started.

The data we’ve gathered from congregations across the Episcopal Church has helped us understand the most effective practices for fostering spiritual vitality. Here are some things we’ve learned about these best practices that you might want to consider and implement right away:

1. Strengthen the heart of your leadership

Research shows that leaders make disciples by modeling discipleship. How has the pandemic impacted your own heart and the hearts of your congregation’s clergy and lay leaders? You’ve navigated a crisis. It might be time to check in with yourself and other leaders about whether or not you’re making personal spiritual growth a priority. Is it time for a retreat? For connecting with colleagues or a mentor? Is it time to get back to daily spiritual practices neglected during this past year? The leader’s heart is the critical element for spiritually vital congregations.

2. Get people moving

Is spiritual growth an expectation in your congregation? Data we’ve gathered shows the importance of helping people understand that they are on a spiritual journey. In this moment, how can you create a path with clear next steps for wherever they are on that journey?

For Episcopalians, the eucharist is transformative. People have missed it terribly. Now would be a great time to teach about this central sacrament. You may have picked up newcomers to the Episcopal tradition who are unfamiliar with the liturgy. You may be welcoming back longtime church-goers who recognize how much they’ve missed the eucharist and want to know what it’s all about. Capitalize on this curiosity. An instructed eucharist is a great way to deepen understanding of the spiritual journey. Another helpful resource about Holy Eucharist is Furman Buchanan’s book, Gifts of God for the People of God.

At the same time, in the midst of the pandemic, many parishioners have explored new spiritual practices, discovering alternative ways of “being” church. Find out what has been meaningful for people in this unusual time. See how new practices can be incorporated in your common life. As you move forward, how will you mix online and in-person gatherings? Which practices should continue to be offered online regardless of pandemic restriction?

3. Embed scripture in everything you do

According to research, the primary catalyst for spiritual growth is engagement in scripture. Whatever your future plans entail, scripture can be incorporated. It can be as simple as beginning meetings (even those about church business!) with 10 minutes of scripture reflection. It can mean launching a church-wide challenge to read a book of the Bible together to celebrate reunion. (The Good Book Club has archived resources that might help with facilitation). It can be offering study groups, online or in-person or some hybrid, to maximize engagement. Maybe you want to study Bible stories about time in the wilderness, or return from exile, circumstances not unlike coming out of the pandemic.

4. Create a sense of ownership

Nearly 60% of Episcopalians indicate in the Spiritual Life Inventory say that they want to be challenged to grow and take next steps spiritually. A great way to help folks take ownership of their spiritual journeys is to teach and encourage practices such as daily quiet times in prayer and reflection on scripture. Keep offering the Daily Office online even when you can meet in person. We’ve heard from many churches that participation in midweek services has increased since they’ve offered the ability to participate via Facebook or other online platforms. Invite every parishioner to participate in My Way of Love, an individual inventory followed by eight weeks of emails that trace the Presiding Bishop’s Way of Love. It’s an easy way for people to shape a rule of life that can guide them.

5. Pastor your community

There’s been so much hurt over the past year. Spiritually vital congregations find ways to address the longings and losses of the community. How can your church provide comfort? Hold an interfaith liturgy of remembrance for your community. In addition to the pandemic, we are experiencing crises around racial reconciliation. How can your congregation discuss and learn about racial reconciliation? How can you invite the broader community into conversation?

Think about ways to support teachers and students, helping them make up for lost time and letting them know they are loved and appreciated. Economic need is great. Invite folks to support a food pantry or community vaccine clinic with time, talent, and treasure. Share a prayer or blessing when you give out a bag of food or vaccine.

The data on Episcopal churches has shown us that we excel in service but don’t always connect our faith to these acts of giving. Find tangible ways to connect the two. Spiritual growth happens when acts of service are anchored in the Baptismal Covenant, in prayer, and in scripture.

The mission of RenewalWorks is to help churches (and individuals in them) refocus on spiritual growth and identify ways that God is calling them to grow. Now is a great time to engage this process and chart the course forward. We would love to help you on that journey. Contact us if you would like to learn more about RenewalWorks, or if you have other thoughts and ideas about fostering spiritual growth as we emerge from the pandemic.

RenewalWorks – Digital Catalog

Monday Matters (April 12, 2021)

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C.S.Lewis reflects on his conversion:

Really, a young atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side.

You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929, I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.
(Surprised by Joy, ch. 14)

Lewis explained that on November 12, he and his brother Warren traveled to Whipsnade Zoo. “When we set out,” Lewis wrote, “I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; and when we reached the zoo, I did.”

What makes you believe?

For Mary Magdalene in the garden on Easter morning, it was Jesus saying her name. For Thomas of doubting fame, it was seeing the wounds of Jesus. For the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it was the breaking of the bread. For Peter, it was Jesus’ help with the disciples’ abysmal skills as fishermen. The stories of Easter offer all kinds of reasons why people came to believe. There were many ways that their eyes and hearts were opened.

So this morning, I’m wondering: How did that happen for you? What made you a believer, to whatever extent you consider yourself a believer? What compels you, or at least prompts you to identify with faith, even if that faith is small as a mustard seed, even if it wavers?

A lot of it has to do with the way we look at things. Einstein said that there were two ways to look at the world. One, as if nothing is miracle. Two, as if everything is miracle. I’m guessing that some of those disciples simply thought resurrection was not possible. They were blocked by limits of their own imaginations. That kind of thing (i.e., resurrection) didn’t happen, even when Jesus had given them hints it was coming. That may be true for us as well.

Abraham Lincoln said that he was driven to his knees in prayer because he had nowhere else to go. Many people come to faith out of a sense of their own brokenness, their need for help from a power greater than themselves. They’ve tried everything else.

Many people come to faith because of the witness of someone else, making the point that faith is more often caught than taught. The early church apparently grew exponentially because people outside the church looked at this new community and said, “See how they love one another.” I wonder if folks would say that about the church today.

And then we have to admit that growth in faith is a mystery. Lots of Jesus’ parables suggest that. He talks about seeds planted, some taking root and some not. When Jesus spoke with Nicodemus about being born from above, being born anew, being born again, Jesus said that it’s as mysterious as the wind blowing where it wills, not knowing where it came from or where it’s headed. I sometimes feel that way about my faith. It’s a come and a go.

I’m grateful for the ways that the gospels tell the Easter story. As we read these stories over 50 days, we see again and again that the first disciples doubted and feared and wondered. They are us. In our world there are plenty of reasons to throw in the towel on belief. The most religious people may well be the ones who make it most difficult for us to believe.

So how about this for an Easter project? Spend some time thinking about your own spiritual growth, perhaps even about your own conversion experience, for some a singular transformative event, for others a lifelong process moving from exploring to deepening to centering on a life with God. If belief feels thin this morning, say a prayer for eyes to be opened in some new way to God’s presence. If belief feels strong, give thanks. If you know someone who seems to have a powerful faith, ask that person about how that came about. And maybe as an observance of Easter, share a story with someone about how faith took root in your life and how you hope it will continue to blossom.

-Jay Sidebotham


RenewalWorks has partnered with The Episcopal Church to transform RenewalWorks for Me into My Way of Love, Powered by RenewalWorks.

Using baseline data from hundreds of churches and thousands of Christians who have worked with RenewalWorks, your responses to a few simple questions will help the system identify broad characteristics of your spiritual life, and then assign you a plan of action.

After reading your initial results, you can go further by signing up for eight weeks of customized emails with tips, reminders and suggestions for daily spiritual practices. Following a four-part routine (Warm Up – Practice – Coach’s Tip – Stretch), these weekly emails support your unique spiritual journey and provide just the right suggestions for you to grow.

My Way of Love is free, a gift from Forward Movement and The Episcopal Church, offered in the confidence that as individual Christians grow in spiritual health, our congregations and dioceses will also be healthier-spiritually speaking.

Learn more and sign up for My Way of Love here.

In a recent episode of the video series  Leading Forward: Conversations on Discipleship and Growth, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry speaks with the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. The two discuss My Way of Love and the connection between discipleship and the spiritual practices for Jesus-centered life.

“Answering the survey questions helps the coach to guide you in real spiritual growth based on experience,” said Bishop Curry, “RenewalWorks and [Forward Movement] have been working on this for a while, but My Way of Love is based on that experience and the experience of roughly 2000 years of Christian history, plus a couple more thousand years of Jewish history and the history of other people of faith.” Watch the video here.

Leading Forward -- Conversation with Bishop Michael Curry about My Way of Love
Leading Forward — Conversation with Bishop Michael Curry about My Way of Love

If you’ve already done RenewalWorks for Me, you can still participate in My Way of Love and experience the wisdom that has been infused by this addition of The Way of Love, Practices for Jesus-Centered Life.

Monday Matters (April 5, 2021)

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The prayer closing Martin Luther King’s sermon: The Questions Easter Answers

O God, our gracious Heavenly Father, we come on this Easter morning thanking Thee for revealing to us the ultimate meaning and the ultimate rationality of the universe. We thank you, this morning, for your Son, Jesus, who came by to let us know that love is the most durable power in the world, who came by to let us know that death can’t defeat us, to take the sting out of the grace and death and make it possible for all of us to have eternal life. We thank you, O God. And God grant that we will be grateful recipients of they eternal blessing. In the name and spirit of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

 

Love wins.
-Rob Bell

Alleluia, the 2021 version!

A parishioner once rather heatedly questioned my wisdom as rector because he believed that I had scheduled Easter during his son’s spring vacation. He was not happy. In response, I began by noting my appreciation for the ascription to me of such authority. I also conveyed my own frustration that Easter keeps moving around. Seasons shorten and lengthen depending on when Easter is scheduled. That presents challenges for type-A planners like me. Do you know any in the church?

But here we are. It is Easter, a season as well as a day. Why not look on the bright side? Led by the Spirit, changing dates can help us find new insights into the meaning of the day, the reason for the season.

For instance, when Easter falls on April 10, we are able to recall the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died on this day. He gave witness to Easter as he was led to execution, turning to his imprisoned congregation and saying: “For us this is the end. For me the beginning.”

When Easter falls on April 1 (April Fools’ Day), we can live into the wisdom of Esau McCaulley in his column in the New York Times on Friday, words about the unsettling news of Easter. He wrote: Christians, at their best, are the fools who dare believe in God’s power to call dead things to life. 

When Easter falls on April 15, we get to explore the question of rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. That can be a vision of a new, resurrected life.

When Easter falls on Earth day, we celebrate the beauty of the earth, which teaches us all the time about death and resurrection, seeds going underground and dying to produce growth.

And as Easter falls on April 4, as it did yesterday, that collision of calendars offers opportunity to give thanks for the life and ministry of Martin Luther King. His life ended on April 4 on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The Sunday before Dr. King died, he preached a sermon in which he seemed to know what was coming. He spoke about the promised land, a hopeful vision which he knew that he himself may not see but to which he had led a movement. That sermon had Easter promise written all over it.

In 1957, he preached an Easter Sermon entitled “Questions that Easter Answers.

He said: “As I look over the world, as I look at America, I can see Easter coming in race relations. I can see it coming on every hand. I see it coming in Montgomery. Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. What stops us does not stop God and that miracle is as much a part of the end as of the beginning. Above all, Easter provides answers to the deepest queries of the human spirit.”

All of this says to me that our observance of Easter obviously happens year after year with dreams unfulfilled. In 1957, Dr. King claimed that he could see Easter coming in terms of race relations. I can’t imagine he would have imagined that in Holy Week 2021 we’d all be watching footage of the end of George Floyd’s life. And while we may see Easter coming after a year of COVID, we still contend with the great losses that come from this health and economic crisis.

The new life that is promised in Easter does not mean that all difficulties of life dissipate. It does mean that week in and week out we affirm that love wins. We join with Dr. King in claiming this as the Easter message: “Love is the most durable power in the world…Through the love that God revealed through Jesus Christ, things move on.” As he said, what stops us does not stop God.

May we this day, this week, this Easter season tap into that durable power. Where will you start this morning?

-Jay Sidebotham


Exciting news!  Introducing…

RenewalWorks has partnered with The Episcopal Church to transform RenewalWorks for Me into My Way of Love, Powered by RenewalWorks.

Using baseline data from hundreds of churches and thousands of Christians who have worked with RenewalWorks, your responses to a few simple questions will help the system identify broad characteristics of your spiritual life, and then assign you a plan of action.

After reading your initial results, you can go further by signing up for eight weeks of customized emails with tips, reminders and suggestions for daily spiritual practices. Following a four-part routine (Warm Up – Practice – Coach’s Tip – Stretch), these weekly emails support your unique spiritual journey and provide just the right suggestions for you to grow.

My Way of Love is free, a gift from Forward Movement and The Episcopal Church, offered in the confidence that as individual Christians grow in spiritual health, our congregations and dioceses will also be healthier-spiritually speaking.

Learn more and sign up for My Way of Love here.

In a recent episode of the video series  Leading Forward: Conversations on Discipleship and Growth, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry speaks with the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. The two discuss My Way of Love and the connection between discipleship and the spiritual practices for Jesus-centered life.

“Answering the survey questions helps the coach to guide you in real spiritual growth based on experience,” said Bishop Curry, “RenewalWorks and [Forward Movement] have been working on this for a while, but My Way of Love is based on that experience and the experience of roughly 2000 years of Christian history, plus a couple more thousand years of Jewish history and the history of other people of faith.” Watch the video here.

Leading Forward -- Conversation with Bishop Michael Curry about My Way of Love
Leading Forward — Conversation with Bishop Michael Curry about My Way of Love

If you’ve already done RenewalWorks for Me, you can still participate in My Way of Love and experience the wisdom that has been infused by this addition of The Way of Love, Practices for Jesus-Centered Life.

Monday Matters (March 29, 2021)

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The Collect for Today: The Monday of Holy Week
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. 

 

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father
-Philippians 2:5-11

 

Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again. Wanderer, there is no road– Only wakes upon the sea.
-Antonio Machado, Campos de Castilla

We make our way by walking

So here’s the question that occurs to me as I read the prayer for today, included above: How do we find that the way of the cross is the way of life and peace? It’s about walking. In RenewalWorks lingo, it is about getting people moving. It is about the journey, the process, the experience of the way of the cross. As we begin this Holy Week, what does that way of the cross mean to you? Here are some thoughts on what it means to me. Use this morning’s reflection to think about what that way of the cross means to you.

It means walking in a spirit of kenosis, that Greek word which suggests emptying, noted in particular in a reading you may have heard yesterday in church, a reading also printed above. As we remember Jesus, his whole experience among us, but especially his journey through Holy Week, was about self-emptying, not grasping at prerogatives or entitlement. How can we do that this week?

It means meeting the pain of the world. I often think that the greatest miracle of Holy Week is that Jesus didn’t catch the first bus out of Jerusalem, which would have been my response. There were times earlier in his life when he eluded those trying to kill him, those who wanted to throw him off a cliff, those who wanted to stone him to death. But this week was to be his hour of glory, the moment when his holy nature is revealed. How can we boldly meet the pain of the world this week? (We don’t have to look far.)

It means stepping into service. This week, we will travel to Maundy Thursday, where Jesus gets up from the table and washes the disciples gnarly feet. That action echoes what he had tried to teach ambitious, thick-headed disciples, that true greatness is manifested in service. How might we be imaginative this week in terms of service?

It means always moving forward with an attitude of gratitude. On the same night that he washed disciples feet, Jesus instituted the eucharist, a word which really means thanksgiving. What frame of mind allowed him to focus on gratitude when he seemed to know what was coming? His witness indicates that gratitude finds expression without much regard for circumstances. Is there a way we can walk that way this week? What makes your heart grateful in crazy crisis times?

It means following a path of forgiveness. As his journey took him to the cross, his reaction was not defensiveness, resentment, or self-justification. It was not the kind of martyrdom that draws attention to the victim. It was an expression of forgiveness for those who were doing the worst, the unimaginable to him. In that way, the forgiveness seems to know no limit. I’m not good at that kind of practice, but I wonder how this week we might walk that way, even in baby steps.

It means walking a pathway marked by hope. Gospel accounts seem to vary on how much Jesus knew about how all this would end, but again and again he seemed to express the idea that he would be lifted up, not just on the hard wood of the cross, but lifted up by God’s glorious and gracious power. The cross was not a dead-end but a threshold. Jesus seemed to move forward knowing that.

There’s a lot to walk into this week, called holy because it is set apart. As we take next steps, may we do so in the spirit of Paul’s letter to the Philippians which calls us to have the mind of Christ.

-Jay Sidebotham


Exciting news!  Introducing…

RenewalWorks has partnered with The Episcopal Church to transform RenewalWorks for Me into My Way of Love, Powered by RenewalWorks.

Using baseline data from hundreds of churches and thousands of Christians who have worked with RenewalWorks, your responses to a few simple questions will help the system identify broad characteristics of your spiritual life, and then assign you a plan of action.

After reading your initial results, you can go further by signing up for eight weeks of customized emails with tips, reminders and suggestions for daily spiritual practices. Following a four-part routine (Warm Up – Practice – Coach’s Tip – Stretch), these weekly emails support your unique spiritual journey and provide just the right suggestions for you to grow.

My Way of Love is free, a gift from Forward Movement and The Episcopal Church, offered in the confidence that as individual Christians grow in spiritual health, our congregations and dioceses will also be healthier-spiritually speaking.

Learn more and sign up for My Way of Love here.

In a recent episode of the video series  Leading Forward: Conversations on Discipleship and Growth, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry speaks with the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. The two discuss My Way of Love and the connection between discipleship and the spiritual practices for Jesus-centered life.

“Answering the survey questions helps the coach to guide you in real spiritual growth based on experience,” said Bishop Curry, “RenewalWorks and [Forward Movement] have been working on this for a while, but My Way of Love is based on that experience and the experience of roughly 2000 years of Christian history, plus a couple more thousand years of Jewish history and the history of other people of faith.” Watch the video here.

Leading Forward -- Conversation with Bishop Michael Curry about My Way of Love
Leading Forward — Conversation with Bishop Michael Curry about My Way of Love

If you’ve already done RenewalWorks for Me, you can still participate in My Way of Love and experience the wisdom that has been infused by this addition of The Way of Love, Practices for Jesus-Centered Life.

Monday Matters (March 22, 2021)

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Matthew 1:18-20, 24

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiahtook place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.

 

Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Fa la la la la la la la Lent

We’re almost at Holy Week. We’re nearing the end of the journey through Lent. Covid persists. So what do we do now? We talk about Christmas.

Today we are halfway between two important feasts having to do with Jesus’ birth. Last Friday, we observed the feast of St. Joseph, when an angel informs Joseph that his betrothed will have a son. This coming Thursday, we observe the feast of the Annunciation, when an angel tells Mary she is with child. What do stories of the beginning of Jesus’ life have to do with Lent? How do they inform our understanding of Jesus’ last days? What do Joseph and Mary have to teach us that applies to our lives in this week at the end of March?

I often think of Joseph as the person for whom they crafted the saying: Life is what happens instead of what we plan. He was going to marry Mary. Change of plans. He had to travel to Bethlehem. Change of plans. He needed a hotel room. Change of plans. He had to flee Bethlehem. Change of plans. Again and again, Joseph said yes, even though it meant shame in his community, snickering and gossip, even though it meant taking his family into exile, eluding terrors of a tyrant, even though it meant giving up his plans. It was not the path of least resistance. No one would have blamed him if he had dismissed Mary quietly and gone back to his table-saw.

When I think of Mary, I wonder if she had a choice. I wonder if the angel asked other young girls before the angel got to Mary’s house. Mary said yes, even though it may have scandalized her family and friends, even though Simeon warned that a sword would go through her heart. It was not the path of least resistance. No one would have blamed her if she had told the angel “Thanks but no thanks.”

Yesterday in church, we read from John’s gospel. Jesus seems to know what is coming with his imminent arrest, abandonment, torture and execution. He prays that the events we observe in Holy Week might be avoided. But then he chose the way of the cross and transformed it into a way of life. It was not the path of least resistance.

What do Mary and Joseph have for us in the closing days of Lent? They give us a hint of what is coming in the story of Jesus. They let us know that saying yes to God is not the easy path. As Jesus told his disciples: If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34). The story of Jesus, from birth to death reflects the cost of discipleship. The story of the Bible, from Genesis to the book of Revelation, reflects the cost of faithfulness.

Have you had any experiences that reflect this dynamic? Has your faith journey been relatively cost-free? Has it cost a lot? What do you think Jesus meant when he told followers to take up their cross? What would that mean in your life this week?

Holy Week offers an annual opportunity to see the way of the cross as the way of life. It’s an opportunity that came with Jesus’ birth and continued until those hours when he stretched out arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to draw us all into his saving embrace. Ask God this week in preparation for these holy days to show you how best to travel that way.

-Jay Sidebotham


Exciting news!  Introducing…

RenewalWorks has partnered with The Episcopal Church to transform RenewalWorks for Me into My Way of Love, Powered by RenewalWorks.

Using baseline data from hundreds of churches and thousands of Christians who have worked with RenewalWorks, your responses to a few simple questions will help the system identify broad characteristics of your spiritual life, and then assign you a plan of action.

After reading your initial results, you can go further by signing up for eight weeks of customized emails with tips, reminders and suggestions for daily spiritual practices. Following a four-part routine (Warm Up – Practice – Coach’s Tip – Stretch), these weekly emails support your unique spiritual journey and provide just the right suggestions for you to grow.

My Way of Love is free, a gift from Forward Movement and The Episcopal Church, offered in the confidence that as individual Christians grow in spiritual health, our congregations and dioceses will also be healthier-spiritually speaking.

Learn more and sign up for My Way of Love here.

In a recent episode of the video series  Leading Forward: Conversations on Discipleship and Growth, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry speaks with the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. The two discuss My Way of Love and the connection between discipleship and the spiritual practices for Jesus-centered life.

“Answering the survey questions helps the coach to guide you in real spiritual growth based on experience,” said Bishop Curry, “RenewalWorks and [Forward Movement] have been working on this for a while, but My Way of Love is based on that experience and the experience of roughly 2000 years of Christian history, plus a couple more thousand years of Jewish history and the history of other people of faith.” Watch the video here.

Leading Forward -- Conversation with Bishop Michael Curry about My Way of Love
Leading Forward — Conversation with Bishop Michael Curry about My Way of Love

If you’ve already done RenewalWorks for Me, you can still participate in My Way of Love and experience the wisdom that has been infused by this addition of The Way of Love, Practices for Jesus-Centered Life.

Monday Matters (March 15, 2021)

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Who am I?
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “Letters & Papers from Prison”

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

What are you doing here?

I’ve been thinking about one of my favorite Bible stories. Elijah, great prophet of the Hebrew Scriptures, is coming off a dramatic victory, winning a public contest with opponents. Evil King Ahab and Queen-of-mean Jezebel aren’t pleased. They vow revenge. Elijah freaks. He heads out to the wilderness where he has a major pity party, thinking he’s all alone in the cause of righteousness. (Sound familiar, clergy?) He’s ready to give up. Ready to give up life actually. He heads to Mt. Horeb, the mountain where revelations of God’s presence happen. In that holy place, the voice of God comes to Elijah in the form of a question repeated a couple times: What are you doing here? Whenever this story comes up in church, I’m struck with its relevance. I listen for where lectors place the emphasis: WHAT are you doing here? What ARE you doing here? What are YOU doing here? What are you DOING here? What are you doing HERE? We could spend a lifetime answering the questions. (Read the whole story in I Kings 19.)

Lent offers time to ask those kinds of questions. It’s a season for self-examination, a process underscored by our year-long experience of Lent brought on by Covid-19. It’s given us all a chance to think about who we are and where we are and where we’re headed. What are we doing in the place where we find ourselves?

For me, in Lent, in Covid-tide, asking these questions has brought a sense of both gratitude and wistfulness, recognizing extraordinary blessings that have come my way which exist side by side with regret, resentment and rethinking of ways I have been spouse, child, parent, priest, citizen. All of this has raised the challenge of acceptance. Accepting where I’ve been, where I am, where I’m headed.

To navigate that, I believe I have been graced with four statements that help me in my reflection on life, statements that reflect confession and contentment. Here are the four:

  • I am who I am
  • I am what I am
  • I am where I am
  • I am why I am

Several things occur to me in response to these statements.

First, like looking in a mirror, these statements are an honest assessment of the current situation, where I find myself these days. The good and the bad are encompassed in that view of self (as reflected in the poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the column on the left, a poem written in prison, where he might have asked: “What am I doing here?”). There’s much for which to be grateful in terms of where I find myself, for sure. But there are also things that call for repentance. It’s a mix, just like life.

Second, thinking about who, what, where and why I am brings me back to a focus on grace. However the questions are answered, the bottom line is that I am part of God’s good and blessed creation, that I am held in the arms of a loving, liberating, life-giving God, and there is nothing that can separate me from that.

Take this season to ask these questions. Hear God speak to you as he did to Elijah as he asks: What are you doing here? Ask the question that Dietrich Bonhoeffer asked of himself in the poem: Who am I? Consider the stewardship question: What am I doing with what I’ve been given? And allow all this self-examination to take place in the context of a love that will not let you go.

-Jay Sidebotham

Exciting news!  Introducing…

RenewalWorks has partnered with The Episcopal Church to transform RenewalWorks for Me into My Way of Love, Powered by RenewalWorks.

Using baseline data from hundreds of churches and thousands of Christians who have worked with RenewalWorks, your responses to a few simple questions will help the system identify broad characteristics of your spiritual life, and then assign you a plan of action.

After reading your initial results, you can go further by signing up for eight weeks of customized emails with tips, reminders and suggestions for daily spiritual practices. Following a four-part routine (Warm Up – Practice – Coach’s Tip – Stretch), these weekly emails support your unique spiritual journey and provide just the right suggestions for you to grow.

My Way of Love is free, a gift from Forward Movement and The Episcopal Church, offered in the confidence that as individual Christians grow in spiritual health, our congregations and dioceses will also be healthier-spiritually speaking.

Learn more and sign up for My Way of Love here.

In a recent episode of the video series  Leading Forward: Conversations on Discipleship and Growth, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry speaks with the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. The two discuss My Way of Love and the connection between discipleship and the spiritual practices for Jesus-centered life.

“Answering the survey questions helps the coach to guide you in real spiritual growth based on experience,” said Bishop Curry, “RenewalWorks and [Forward Movement] have been working on this for a while, but My Way of Love is based on that experience and the experience of roughly 2000 years of Christian history, plus a couple more thousand years of Jewish history and the history of other people of faith.” Watch the video here.

Leading Forward -- Conversation with Bishop Michael Curry about My Way of Love
Leading Forward — Conversation with Bishop Michael Curry about My Way of Love

If you’ve already done RenewalWorks for Me, you can still participate in My Way of Love and experience the wisdom that has been infused by this addition of The Way of Love, Practices for Jesus-Centered Life.

Monday Matters (March 8, 2021)

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A Prayer for the Human Family, The Book of Common Prayer
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ Lord. Amen.
 
Humility connects us. Humility reminds us how we are all so dependent on each other. It reminds us of all the many factors that come into play. Humility frees us from the prison of me, to the freedom of we.
-Desmond Tutu
 
True humility doesn’t consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you’d be apt to think of anybody else. It is the capacity for being no more and no less pleased when you play your own hand well than when your opponents do.
-Frederick Buechner

On humility

One of the challenges in thinking about humility: As soon as we become aware of it, or aspire to it, or hope to see it in ourselves, we’ve probably lost any chance of exhibiting it. We become proud of being humble. But let’s give it a go.

We’re learning in our work with churches that the spiritual vitality of congregations has a whole lot to do with the leader’s heart. We have often referred to the work of Jim Collins, who in 2005 wrote a monograph to accompany his book Good to Great. This text was intended for the social sector and non-profit organizations in particular. In it he highlights essential leadership qualities. Effective leaders in these organizations combine deep personal humility with intense professional will. So let’s focus on that deep personal humility piece.

Last week, Nicholas Kristof wrote a column about how we talk with people with whom we disagree. He too recognizes the need for humility by citing a new book by Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton. The book, in Kristof’s words, is a paean to intellectual humility. He notes the ways we all come at life with our biases, including the “I’m not biased” bias, by which we believe we are more objective than others. Kristof says that left and right often see the world, indignantly, through a tidy moral prism. But the world is messier than that, which argues for intellectual humility. According to Dr. Grant, what wins people over is  “listening, asking questions and appealing to their values, not your own.”

Interesting stuff, but what does this have to do with discipleship?

In case you haven’t noticed, the world we live in is kind of divided, maybe more so than in the past. Those divisions can be found across the dinner table, in the next pew, in the residence down the hall or down the street , in the adjacent cubicle or window on our zoom conference call, in the halls of our nation’s capital. How do we faithfully move beyond “I’m right and you’re wrong?”

In his book, Jesus and the Disinherited (which I’m reading as part of our work with the impressive and unsettling Sacred Ground series created by the Presiding Bishop’s office), the author Howard Thurman speaks about how people respond to opposition and oppression. For the most part, they either resist (causing a big dust up), or they don’t resist (lapsing into toxic passivity). He says that there is a third way, the way of Jesus.

It is the way of love. It is the way of deep personal humility modeled by our Lord and Savior. It is Jesus listening to Nicodemus’ late-night questions. It is Jesus engaging in conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, someone he had no business being with. It is Jesus going to lunch with Zacchaeus, a crook and bit of a creep. It is Jesus saying and showing that true greatness comes in service. It is Jesus washing the feet of disciples. It is Jesus on the cross amidst an argument between thieves hanging on either side of him, speaking forgiveness to torturers and executioners. It is meant to be our way, too.

If Lent is a season for spiritual practice, how about this week practicing humility, especially in interaction with people who disagree with you, people you think are wrong? Listen to them. Pray for them. Throw in a prayer for yourself, that you might be freed from biases that cloud vision. Pray for a world broken in so many ways. Pray for the whole human family, using the prayer in the column on the left.

That is what all this talk about Jim Collins and Nicholas Kristof and Adam Grant and Howard Thurman has to do with discipleship. In a world in need of healing, where divisions are sharp, Jesus offers another way forward, thank God.

-Jay Sidebotham

Exciting news!  Introducing…

RenewalWorks has partnered with The Episcopal Church to transform RenewalWorks for Me into My Way of Love, Powered by RenewalWorks.

Using baseline data from hundreds of churches and thousands of Christians who have worked with RenewalWorks, your responses to a few simple questions will help the system identify broad characteristics of your spiritual life, and then assign you a plan of action.

After reading your initial results, you can go further by signing up for eight weeks of customized emails with tips, reminders and suggestions for daily spiritual practices. Following a four-part routine (Warm Up – Practice – Coach’s Tip – Stretch), these weekly emails support your unique spiritual journey and provide just the right suggestions for you to grow.

My Way of Love is free, a gift from Forward Movement and The Episcopal Church, offered in the confidence that as individual Christians grow in spiritual health, our congregations and dioceses will also be healthier-spiritually speaking.

Learn more and sign up for My Way of Love here.

In a recent episode of the video series  Leading Forward: Conversations on Discipleship and Growth, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry speaks with the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. The two discuss My Way of Love and the connection between discipleship and the spiritual practices for Jesus-centered life.

“Answering the survey questions helps the coach to guide you in real spiritual growth based on experience,” said Bishop Curry, “RenewalWorks and [Forward Movement] have been working on this for a while, but My Way of Love is based on that experience and the experience of roughly 2000 years of Christian history, plus a couple more thousand years of Jewish history and the history of other people of faith.” Watch the video here.

Leading Forward -- Conversation with Bishop Michael Curry about My Way of Love
Leading Forward — Conversation with Bishop Michael Curry about My Way of Love

If you’ve already done RenewalWorks for Me, you can still participate in My Way of Love and experience the wisdom that has been infused by this addition of The Way of Love, Practices for Jesus-Centered Life.

Monday Matters (March 1, 2021)

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Can God set a table in the wilderness?

-Psalm 78

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
-from the liturgy for Ash Wednesday

To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness – especially in the wilderness – you shall love him.
-Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.
-John Muir

In like a lion…

This date reminds us: March comes in like a lion, out like a lamb. The point is that as we go through this month, we don’t end up in the same place we began.

That is also true of the season of Lent, overlapping this lion-to-lamb month. The expectation of the season is that we will change. When we arrive at Easter, we will be different than when we polished off those pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.  It’s a season of transformation.

The image used for the season of Lent is a journey through the wilderness, specifically the story of the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness. They began as slaves escaping Egypt. They wandered circuitously for forty years but ended up in a new place. They ended up a new people.

That image of wilderness only has power because we all know something about wilderness. One of my favorite cartoons shows a woman dressed in business attire standing in the great wilderness all alone. Above the drawing this title: A voice crying in the wilderness. The woman is yelling: Get me the hell out of the wilderness! Another cartoon illustrates Moses’ wife stopping the procession of the wandering tribes. She pokes her head in the convenience store and asks for directions. Clearly, her husband needed to know which way to go. Mythology has it that men aren’t good at asking for directions.

All of which is to say that Lent is a season marked by challenge, by testing. It’s why we always start the season reading about Jesus’ temptation in the desert. But it’s also a season of formation and discovery. Though it takes a while, the children of Israel end up in a different place from where they began.

Lent 2021 has its own feel this year. As we began the season, I’ve heard again and again that people feel like they’ve been in Lent for over a year, thank you very much. Since everything shut down last March, they don’t feel quite the same urgency about giving something up. Been there. Done that. The past year has been a wilderness experience, filled with wildest of beasts. A mind-boggling death toll indicates such. If the past year has been a Lent writ large, we may wonder how we will come out different than where we began when we all get back together. Some of that will be hard. Some of that will be a new creation. But we will come to a new place.

So as we move through the month of March, as we move through the 40 days of Lent, as we move through Covid-tide, what will be the things that help us come out as a new creation?The prayer book gives suggestions in the invitation to Lent we read on Ash Wednesday. Think of these suggestions as traveling instructions, leading us to a place we’ve not been before. These suggestions  include the following:

  • Self-examination: A rigorous look in the mirror at where we are, what we have done and what we have left undone.
  • Repentance: It’s about the direction we’re headed, with consideration of whether it’s the direction we want for our lives, the direction we feel called to follow.
  • Prayer: In its varied forms, it’s the recognition that we rely on help beyond ourselves as we give thanks for ways that help has come.
  • Fasting: Traveling light, getting clarity about what we actually need for the journey.
  • Self-denial: Again, figuring out what we can do without.
  • Reading and meditating on God’s word: Hearing what the Spirit is saying to us.

We’re still early in Lent, definitely early in March. Apparently, we are not done with Covid-tide. So there’s time to take these suggestions to heart. Take this moment, maybe especially this week, to invite God to make something new out of your life, perhaps putting these several traveling suggestions to work.

-Jay Sidebotham

                  



RenewalWorks: Connect
 
What happens after RenewalWorks?
We invite you to join us for a new monthly online series to discuss how to continue this work of spiritual growth and to support one another on the way.
 
Next call: March 3rd, 7pm ET
Guest: Rev. Doyt Conn, Rector, Church of the Epiphany, Seattle.
Join us via Zoom video conference
 

February 22, 2021

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Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.
-Genesis 12:1-4a
 
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 
-Hebrews 11:8-10

Looking Forward

These days, my daily prayer list has expanded to include prayers for a grandchild expected to arrive later this year (and of course, for her parents). In my prayers for her, I’ve found myself imagining what her life will be like. What will the world be like when she is 30? When she is 60? Will she live to be 120?

This wondering about the next generation was prompted as I read a book by Yuval Noah Harari, entitled 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. He writes: “If you lived in China in 1018, you might know that by 1050 the Song Empire might collapse, the Khitans might invade from the north, and plagues might kill millions. However, it was clear to you that even in 1050 most people would still work as farmers and weavers, rulers would still rely on humans to staff their armies and bureaucracies, men would still dominate women, life expectancy would still be about 40 and the human body would remain exactly the same. For that reason, in 1018 poor Chinese parents taught their children how to plant rice or weave silk; wealthier parents taught their boys how to read the Confucian classics, write calligraphy or fight on horseback. It was obvious that these skills would be needed in 1050.”

He continues: “Today we have no idea how China or the rest of the world will look in 2050. We don’t know what people will do for a living, we don’t know how armies or bureaucracies will function, and we don’t know what gender relationships will be like. Some people will probably live much longer than today, and the human body itself might undergo an unprecedented revolution thanks to bioengineering and direct brain-to-computer interface. Much of what kids learn today will likely be irrelevant by 2050.”

The author speaks about how we educate young people for what’s next. I’m wondering how we prepare them spiritually.

Perspective on the future has always been a matter of seeing through a glass darkly. A year into Covid-tide, I sense that truth more than ever. In the past, looking through foggy lens, I have been sustained and guided by the story of Abraham and Sarah in the book of Genesis. It’s reported in scripture that they answered a call from God, leaving what they knew for something they didn’t know at all. They launched out not knowing where they were going.

They become important teachers in this particular season. We’re making up what it means to deal with COVID. Many of us thought this would be over a year ago. Apparently, we were mistaken. Many people remain uncertain about the ways they will do their jobs in days ahead, if they have jobs at all. The Episcopal Church and other mainline congregations face trends that make it questionable that the church will continue as it has for generations. Covid has only accelerated change and deepened uncertainty about what’s next. That’s true for our society. That’s true for the various communities to which we belong, large and small. That’s true in each of our lives.

Which leads to the adage I heard as a child: I may not know what the future holds but I know who holds the future. I’m pretty sure that the world of my 30 year old granddaughter will be vastly different. I bet she’ll think that much of what we did was quaint at best, perhaps ridiculous. Maybe she’ll regard what we have done as inexplicable, even reprehensible, for any number of reasons.

But as I pray for her, I do believe that she and her generation can still be guided by the one who holds the future, the one whose nature is grace, the one said to be with us till the end of the ages. Call me crazy, but I believe, that as Abraham and Sarah walked by faith, so as her adventure unfolds, she will be held in those loving arms. I pray she will always know that those loving arms surround her.

-Jay Sidebotham

                  



RenewalWorks: Connect
 
What happens after RenewalWorks?
We invite you to join us for our monthly online series to discuss how to continue this work of spiritual growth and to support one another on the way.
 
Next call: March 3rd, 7pm ET
Guest: Rev. Doyt Conn, Rector, Church of the Epiphany, Seattle.
Join us via Zoom video conference